A Ruthless Look At Self Employment

Every day, I hear about people dreaming of self employment. Some voice their opinions on Twitter, stating again and again that working for yourself is so much better than working for a boss. Others come up to me in person and voice their dream, accompanied with a number of excuses why they haven’t quit their job yet.

photo of man sitting in train looking outside window
Dreaming of ditching the commute, the cubicle, the boss …

Although aiming for self employment is a wonderful goal, it isn’t always better than working in an established company. There are a number of reasons that most people pursuing FIRE are salaried employees. For one, they might be more miserable in their jobs. But, perhaps more importantly, they earn significantly more. According to Trades Union Congress, the average self-employed person earned only only £12.3k in 2016/17. And if you just look at the full-time self-employed, things aren’t much better: In 2013/14, self-employed people working over 30 hours made just over £15k on average (median of all workers: 27k). Even with very low expenses, FIRE is almost impossible for the average self-employed person.

So, what are the pro’s and con’s? After 3.5 years of working for myself as a German and Pilates instructor, here’s what I’ve discovered.

The Con’s

As we’ve already seen, earnings are significantly lower for the average self-employed person. In addition to this, they are unstable and it’s unlikely that you’ll earn a similar amount every month. This might be because some jobs are busier during certain seasons, you fall ill and can’t work, your equipment breaks and you have high business expenses, or you simply want to take a vacation. Remember: whenever you don’t work, you don’t get paid.

To add to this picture of financial misery, your pension options are much worse. There is no employer match, so anything you contribute to your pension will come straight out of your pocket. Nobody automatically enrols you. You actively have to seek out a SIPP and start contributing diligently every month. How many people do you think will skip this? According to IPSE, 45% of those aged 35-55 – and it’s likely even worse with younger people.

What’s more, you have no paid holidays, so the temptation to skip them for a few extra days’ earnings is strong. I remember my first New Year’s Day in the UK: teaching clients in the studio at 8am. Many other self-employed people report not taking time off for years on end.

close up photography of woman sitting beside table while using macbook
No time for breaks, not even on public holidays.

The Pro’s

Why would anybody do this to themselves? Going self-employed seems like financial suicide – but are things really that bad?

Although earnings are lower and have decreased in recent years, a part of the reason is what is called ‘sham self-employment’. This happens when large organisations, such as uber, recruit independent workers and pay them a very low wage. In addition, these workers have to pay their own expenses and may not get holiday pay. When you look only at regular self-employment, which is not linked to such a business, earnings potential is a lot larger. Although you still have to pay your own business expenses, you can often charge a lot more for the same job (and keep a large percentage of it) if you work for yourself.

If you are an organised person and a hard worker, going freelance may be a good option. Every hour you spend working directly improves your earnings potential, which can be very motivating. You are responsible for your own success, not your boss or office politics.

Similarly, if you are already financially savvy, you will know how to make the best of your situation. The SIPP and LISA still offer good savings options for later life, and if you start saving and investing young, you can reach FI just like an employed person. There are also more options for part-time work as a freelancer. Once you are financially stable or even Coast FI, you can start to reduce your workload at will. It’s much easier to design your own life if you’re self-employed, and the job is much more flexible.

Finally, you have more autonomy to work on projects you enjoy. This is the one big reason why the dream of working for yourself persists. Everybody craves the freedom of being their own boss and the luxury of choosing their work. It truly is a gift!

The verdict

Self-employment: is it a path to ruin or to great success? Everybody has to decide this for themselves, but the fact remains that almost 85% of the UK population remains employed.

Personally, I would not change my path, but I would also be wary of advising everybody else to ditch their job and start freelancing. Before you do so, make sure you have a plan of how to mitigate all the con’s and take full advantage of all the pro’s. If you are aiming for FIRE, a steady job is likely a faster and safer route, and self-employment more of a winding path.

Have you ever considered going freelance? What stopped you, or why did you end up taking the leap?

A Year Planned Out: 2021 Money Moves

Last week, we looked back at my December 2020 asset allocation. Now, it’s time to look forward to what will happen in the new year. Inspired by Banker on FIRE’s recent post, here’s my financial plan for 2021.

Start of the YEar

Although a new calendar year has started, the UK tax year will still go on for three more months. I have already maxed out my tax-free ISA allowance, so I’ll be funding my pension for the next three months. As a self-employed person, I don’t have a workplace pension, so I have to create my own, or rely on other types of personal savings.

serious strong elderly man starting for run in racetrack
A race against time: Funding your pension early is a massive advantage!

Middle of the year

The new tax year starts at the beginning of April. This is when all our allowances reset, hopefully at the same level as last year. If so, I will prioritise my accounts as follows:

  • LISA: For younger self-employed people, the LISA is a good deal. You can add a maximum of £4k and the government will top this up by another £1k. This money can then be used either to buy a first home, or at for retirement after the age of 60. This will be my third year holding a LISA, and the extra top-up is always a nice boost.
  • ISA: Once the LISA is full, a further £16k allowance remains. Any money added to ISAs can grow tax-free, so it’s definitely important to take advantage of this. In addition, this account is not age restricted, so I can have access to it at any time.
  • SIPP: If there is money left over, it can go into my self-invested pension. Just like with the LISA, I get tax back on money invested in the SIPP. Despite this, the ISA is my priority because of ease of access. If I do end up working less or pursuing a different path, I will need my investment returns to be accessible before traditional retirement age.

Other Asset Classes

Last year, I held 82% equities, 14% cash and 4% bonds in my portfolio. Although this seems like a sensible asset allocation, I am looking to increase the equities holding, especially in my retirement accounts, which I won’t be able to access for 30+ years. I will keep the bonds I currently have, but won’t add any more. Some of the cash will also be invested, although I will keep my emergency fund in premium bonds.

abundance bank banking banknotes
No money in the sock drawer: reducing my cash holdings in 2021.

What about real estate?

Many people in the FI community invest in real estate in addition to equity. This is something I would also consider, but it doesn’t seem practical at the moment for a variety of reasons:

  • London real estate is very expensive and getting a nice place would tie up a sizeable portion of my money.
  • Since I am not a UK citizen and self-employed with a variable income, I may find it hard to get a mortgage.
  • I don’t know whether I will live in London long-term and with so much volatility, it seems too risky to invest in property short-term.
  • My parents already hold a lot of Swiss property, which will eventually fall to me as an only child – though hopefully not for several decades yet. This will more than likely be enough to manage, without adding UK real estate.

What do you think? Should I still be looking at property as an investment, or would you agree that sticking with equities is best?

The Long Road to Financial Independence: Asset Allocation

Happy New Year!

As we welcome this fresh start, let’s look at where we are today and what got us here. What are your indicators for a successful year – and how does 2020 measure up?

There are many options and all provide valuable insights:

  • Quality time spent with family
  • Relationships with friends
  • Happiness levels
  • Books read/ new skills learned
  • Academic success
  • Job success and satisfaction

In terms of future prosperity and reaching FI, one of the most important metrics is no doubt net worth. Has it increased/ decreased? By what percentage, and how does that relate to your FI goal?

Surprisingly, the year has been one of huge growth for me. In May, I announced being 20% FI and described my journey so far. Now, I’m at 33%, if you include the emergency fund. This is the goal I set myself for age 30, so I reached it 2.5 years early. Definitely a wonderful end-of-2020-present and lots of motivation for me to stay on track in 2021.

A few weeks ago, a reader asked whether I’d disclose my asset allocation. Although my strategy is not as sophisticated as others’, it may be useful to those who start out equally clueless as I did a little over two years ago. Even if you don’t find the perfect asset allocation or invest in the best fund at first, you can still be successful.

Just get started, invest in something! I remember meeting with a family member’s financial advisor, who smiled ironically when I said I was aiming for 7-8% per year. He called me ‘ambitious’ and clearly thought this was a novice’s unrealistic dream. 27 months later, I am up 20% – more than on track, due to low fees and monthly drip feeding.

Cash

I am a rather conservative investor, so I keep quite a lot of cash:

7%: Emergency fund in easy-access account and premium bonds. I increased this due to the pandemic. Being self employed, it’s important to me to have a lot of cash available.

3%: Fixed-term savings bond at 1.4% interest. When this matures in February, the money will go into investments.

4%: Money in easy-access account, waiting to be invested. Due to being self-employed, my contributions vary per month. This is cash ready to be invested in a bad month or when my earnings are lower due to holidays.

Investments

9%: Legal & General Global Technology Index Trust (LGGTTA): This has done very well (+77% since Oct/Nov 2018). I bought this fund at the very beginning, before I started investing in world trackers. Since then, I have just held on to it and watched it grow.

6%: Vanguard Global Small-Cap Index Fund (VIGSCA): I bought this at the same time as the Tech fund, but it hasn’t done as well (+20% since Oct/Nov 2018).

20%: Vanguard LifeStrategy 80 (VVLSRE): This was the first world tracker I bought.

48%: Vanguard LifeStrategy 100 (VVLSRU): I then decided that I am young enough to go for the more risky fund with 100% equity.

3%: Vanguard FTSE Global All Cap Index Fund (VRXXA): This is the most recent purchase. After some additional research, I’ve decided that the LifeStrategy funds are too UK-heavy and this global tracker is the more balanced option. I will likely continue to buy more of this in the near future, thereby decreasing my UK exposure over time.

There it is – everything in my December 2020 portfolio. Do you agree with my larger cash allocation, or do you try to maximise your investment holdings? And which of the above metrics do you use to determine success?

The Long Road to Financial Independence: Examining Budgets

A few days ago, I had a personal finance conversation with a family member.

“How do you keep track of income and expenses?” I asked.

“I don’t,” he said shamefacedly. “But maybe I should.”

After over two years in the FI community, I can hardly imagine not keeping track of my finances in minute details, but the conversation reminded me of the fact that this is actually not typical behaviour. Most people don’t have the close relationship with their finances that many of us do. That’s why I’ve decided to show how I personally lay out my budget every month.

Start of the month

In have several fixed costs which are either taken out of my account through a direct debit, or which I transfer once a month:

  • Rent
  • Bills: council tax, gas, electric, water and internet
  • Phone bill (tax deductible as I use it for work)

In addition, there are the variable expenses such as food and entertainment. Until recently, I used to set myself a spending target and wrote down every single expense, then jotted them up manually. However, this has made me almost too frugal – having to think about every purchase means I might forego buying things that provide value. That’s why I’ve switched to a ‘pay myself first’ system, where I transfer my desired spending number to a Monzo account at the beginning of the month. Monzo tracks spending automatically, so I don’t have to write it down anymore. Also, there’s a handy graph to see how on- or off-track I am.

open diary near laptop on crumpled bed at home
Tracking every expense in a notebook can be exhausting.

End of the Month

The end of the month is all about the income. Here are the steps I take on the final day of the month:

  1. Write earning records for tax purposes and invoices for clients. Send them out and wait to be paid. My clients are wonderful and most of them pay within 5 days.
  2. Estimate my tax burden for the month and set the money aside. I use an easy-access savings account for this.
  3. Deduct the spending money from my post-tax earnings. The rest can go straight into my investments, or if it was a good month, some of it might go into my ‘waiting to be invested’ category so I can invest it in a bad month.
  4. Finally, I can do the net worth calculation for the month by checking all of my accounts.
apple devices books business coffee
Everybody’s desired net worth graph.

Other Bloggers

My system is unique to my self-employed situation, and a bit more complex than necessary if you earn a regular income. So, how do other people budget? Here are some other bloggers’ and Twitter friends’ methods:

The Financial Imagineer: “When we started out we allocated fixed budget amounts per item, e.g. $200 per week for food, $50 for cell phone and so forth, now we incorporated our habits and are reviewing spending monthly and contracts yearly and keep optimizing on the go.”

The Frugal Expat: “We use a Google sheets spreadsheet to track our spendings. If it looks high, we tighten the belt a bit. We only spend her salary. Mine is used for investing.”

The Dividend Principal: “I don’t track every item I spend, I do have my “number” that I make sure I do not go under in my checking account. If I ever dip under that, I tighten things up over the course of my next paycheck which is bi-monthly.”

Antonia: “I don’t budget, I just track. It’s not a lot of work in my case because I only have around 20 transactions per month. Doing that helps keep my spending in check, so I don’t really need a grocery budget, fun budget etc.”

How about you, what’s your budgeting strategy?

Premium Bond Millionaire: On Saving, Splurging and Donating

Throughout 2020, I received an accelerating number of those dreaded emails from my easy-access savings account: “We regret to inform you that we are reducing your interest rate.”

The first reduction was a minimal 0.05%. No big deal, I thought. But then, another -0.10% was announced. Then -0.15% (twice!), -0.35%, -0.20%. Now, two thirds of the interest have been slashed from my once-leading account.

analysis blackboard board bubble
Interest rates at record lows – what now?

This, and the fact that I should receive my deposit from my previous flat soon and will add it to my emergency fund, is why I’ve shopped around for a better deal. I could have chosen a fixed-term account, but the point of an emergency fund is that it is easily accessible. The other option was to go for premium bonds.

If you live in England, you’ll likely have heard of this product. Instead of receiving a fixed amount of interest, each £1 is like a lottery ticket where you can win prizes from £25 to £1 000 000 every month. The average interest rate is 1%, but of course, many people receive nothing at the expense of the lucky winners. If you have under £1000 in premium bonds, there is a 70% chance that you won’t win anything all year. Seems like a bad deal, right?

Not if you increase your holding. Once you hold £10k of the bonds, your average winnings will be 0.75%, already beating any easy-access account out there. And once you hold the maximum number of bonds allowed, 50k, your average rate is 0.9%. The more £1 ‘lottery tickets’ you hold, the larger the chance that you will pick up multiple small wins.

(All statistics from this excellent Money Saving Expert article.)

Although this rational consideration is why I’ve decided to buy premium bonds, the lottery aspect is enticing, as well. What if I did end up winning the £1 million prize? On a recent walk through the snowy Swiss countryside, I explored what I would do with a million pounds.

The FI Fund: £500k

I would invest half of the money and instantly achieve FI. This money, combined with my current net worth, would make work completely optional for me. Likely, I would keep teaching my favourite clients and the ones who need my services the most. However, I could have at least a 4-day weekend, in which to write, volunteer, travel, and meet my friends.

The effective Charity fund: £300k

Every year, I support effective charities with 1% of my income. I could drastically increase this with a large one-off donation. This would save one hundred or more lives in developing countries and contribute to ending world poverty forever.

internet writing party technology
Donating makes you happier than buying useless things!

The Slush Fund: £100k

I’d like to keep some of the money back for various personal purposes. These might include:

  • Inviting my friends out for meals or events.
  • Helping out my two low-income friends, who are struggling due to their low wages.
  • Purchasing some high-quality, durable items of clothing.
top view photo of baked pizza
Surely, a meal like this is worth spending on!

The Local Project Fund: £100K

As nice as it is to give to effective charities, it’s hard to see the impact directly. That’s why I would also like to work with local projects, where I could both donate and volunteer. I would prefer an environmental cause, or potentially split the money between several different causes like parks/ land stewardship, food banks, and other local charities.

How about you? What would you do if you had a sudden, large windfall?

You Don’t Have To Be FI To Act FI

Recently, an older client told me about her late twenties. “They were the best years of my life,” she said. “I was free, I travelled and hiked in Asia for two years.” 

This made me wonder about the downsides of pursuing financial independence at a relatively young age. Indeed the FIRE concept is often criticised by people who follow a train of thought called ‘yolo’ – you only live once. They might say something like: 

“You sacrifice your best years for a future that may or may not happen, and will most likely not be as nice as you imagine. Instead, you should live in the now and not miss out on all the fun in your 20s and 30s.”

They do have a point. Although the likelihood is high that we will live a long and healthy life, this is not guaranteed. Suffering through a horrible job in the hopes of eventually reaching financial independence will indeed rob us of many years. 

What can we do to counteract this potential problem? Here are the steps I took to make sure I both enjoy my current life and reach FI while I’m still relatively young. 

1. Basic Security

I’m a rather cautious person, so basic financial security was my first aim. To me, this means having a well-stocked emergency fund and a few years’ worth of living expenses invested. To someone else, it might be different. However, feeling confident that you’re in a good financial position no matter what happens is a key step and, in my opinion, worth giving up some ‘fun’ time for. 

Once this has been reached, your road to FI should be relatively smooth and (hopefully) boring. This means you now have time to focus on optimising all other areas of your life.

silver round coins
Basic security: building a small cash stash.

2. Life Improvements

What are the lowest-hanging fruit when thinking about how to improve your life? For many people, their unhappiness stems from their job. With a high level of financial security, you could change jobs, ask to work from home for a few days a week, or even ask to go part-time. 

Personally, I really enjoy my work. However, I used to put in 10-14 hour days if you include travel to and from clients’ houses. Now that I am working from home, I have an extra 5+ hours a day. Once the restrictions end, I will continue to do remote sessions for at least three days a week so that I can keep this level of freedom. On the other days, I will use my electric bike to commute, so that I can get my exercise in at the same time. 

man in blue and brown plaid dress shirt touching his hair
Reduce stress as soon as possible.

3. The Big Post-FI Goal

What would you do if all of your time was really yours? Do you have a favourite hobby you’d spend more time on? Do you dream of learning a language, painting, or playing an instrument?

For me, the goal is to write stories and books. However, instead of putting this off until retirement, I have started spending 10-15 minutes a day writing. This has been easy to achieve, even while working full-time, and so far, I have managed to write a 12 000-word novelette in the past three months. It’s amazing what you can achieve in only a few minutes, if you stay consistent! 

Similarly, I said I wanted to learn Spanish for years without doing anything about it. Then, early this year, I decided to just go for it and downloaded the Duolingo app. With less than 15 minutes a day, I have learned 2500+ words and six tenses, and am now able to read Spanish blog posts and articles. 

So, if you are waiting for early retirement to start working on your dream, stop delaying! You can achieve a lot even with minimal time expenditure – plus, starting now gives you a chance to see whether this is really what you want to do with your time. If you spend a few minutes on it every day and you’re still fascinated by it two years later, then you know for sure that it’ll be a great post-FIRE project. 

brushes and bright paints on plate
Whatever your passion is, you don’t need to be retired to start!

Financial independence is a worthwhile goal, but it won’t change who we are or make us happy if we’re not. That’s why building up a happy, fulfilling life should be done even before retirement.

What steps are you taking to improve the quality of your life? What are the most important factors that make you happy?

An Argument For Saving More (Why the Latte Factor Really Matters)

The famed ‘latte factor‘ – the concept that your daily latte and other small purchases can add up to a substantial sum if invested instead – has caused a lot of anger and outrage. Many people insist that saving more is not the answer. Instead, we should all work on increasing our income so that we can spend ever more lavishly.

I’m going to argue that saving more really is the answer.

Of course we should work on earning more money. If you income is lower less the local average, any financial goal is harder to achieve. Starting a side hustle, asking for a raise, or changing your job are all great ways to improve your financial position. However, there are millions of people earning multiples of the average income who are just as broke as someone on minimum wage. If you don’t know how to deal with what you have, you’ll always struggle.

So – what’s so great about saving, anyway?

The Ultimate Tax-Efficient Strategy

If you start a side hustle and earn an extra £100 per month, you’ll have to pay tax on it (assuming you have used all your tax-free allowances for the year already). People in the lower tax bands will get to keep £70-80 of it; in higher tax brackets, this could fall to £50 or even less.

In contrast, if you decide to spend £100 less, all of it is yours to keep.

mad formal executive man yelling at camera
Having to hand over 50% of your extra earnings to the tax man.

Lowering Your FI Number

Not only do you have more money when you save, but you can also lower the total number you need to reach financial independence. If you save £100 for a year, you’ll have an extra £1200 in your investments, plus (assuming the 4% rule) you’ll be able to reduce your overall FI target by £30k. If you choose a more conservative rule, such as 3.5%, the effect will be even larger.

How long would it take you to save £30k? For many of us, this could be a year or longer – would an extra year of freedom be worth giving up your daily coffee (or 4-6 takeaways a month)?

lonely person walking on beach against sea
Giving up your daily latte for a whole extra year of this.

For Your Own Happiness

I kept up with the Joneses all my life and it made me happy every day!

No one, ever.

When studying happiness, many scientists have come to the conclusion that money plays a small role once basic needs are met. Instead, having healthy relationships, enough time, helping others, and exercising are some of the key elements that contribute to our wellbeing. The best part? You can achieve all of these things without spending a great deal of money, or if you’re really determined, anything at all. In fact, saving more and reaching FI earlier will enable you to spend more time with loved ones, exercise every day, and participate in voluntary activities.

adorable diverse girls training together on floor
Exercising with friends: double happiness booster!

For Others

It’s not all about you. Increasingly, we’re aware of the damage our consumption does to the environment and many less affluent countries who are most affected by natural disasters or climate change. How come so many people still think they have the right to consume without thought, no matter how it impacts the rest of the world?

Clearly, buying more stuff we don’t really need isn’t the answer to our modern-day problems. Instead, living a more moderate life means we’ll all be better off in the long run.

climate man people street
Save the world, one foregone purchase at a time.

What do you think? Do you agree that saving more is the most efficient way to FI?

Quality Street: A UK Tradition Ranked by a Swiss

Since moving house, I now have to travel 16.5 miles to visit my volunteer lady‘s house. She asked me to get her a box of Quality Street chocolates last week. Despite it being my third winter in the UK, I’d never had one before. But I dutifully went to Morrison’s, purchased one, and transported it on my bike down to her house.

Upon arrival, she smiled and took the box. “Oh, great,” she said, then handed it back to me. “They’re a gift for you – take them!” So, I lugged the box all the way back home.

Was it worth it?

Choices, choices … If you buy the box, you get a few of each.

Yes! Of course it was. Despite all of my November resolutions, some pre-Christmas cheer is important to keep spirits up – and what better way than a 600-gram box of chocolates wrapped in all colours of the rainbow?

That’s why this week’s post will move away from my typical finance and fitness content. (Although it may well be a taste of what I’ll be up to after I FIRE. Second career as a chocolate taster, anyone?)

Iconic English Sweets, Ranked By a Swiss

11. Toffee Finger: It’s nice, but not as substantial as some of the others. And too chewy.

10. Toffee Penny: Same problem.

9. Caramel Swirl: I’m just not a massive fan of caramel and chocolate.

8. Fudge: Sweet, good consistency. It’s okay.

The pink wrapping is almost too promising for fudge.

7. Coconut Eclair: Tasty, but I prefer a Bounty.

6. Milk Choc block: It’s good chocolate.

5. The Purple One: Reminded me a bit of Nutella. I like it!

Many people’s favourite: The Purple One

4. Chocolate Caramel Brownie: Sadly very scarce, but anything with brownies AND chocolate is a winner.

3. The Green Triangle:

2. Orange Chocolate Crunch: Definitely delicious.

1. Joint Winners: The Strawberry Delight and The Orange Creme: A very controversial choice, but I’m all for too-sweet fruity flavours. Plus, they remind me of fruity chocolate mice from my childhood.

English readers: Do you agree? Disagree? What’s your favourite Quality Street sweet?

International readers: What’s a traditional wintertime sweet in your home?

Frugal Recipes

Speaking of food, I’ve started to develop more of an interest in home cooking. Some of my friends are spending lockdown trying out new recipes, and I seem to have caught the bug. Here are some frugal ones I’ve enjoyed recently:

Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies, 3p

Salad-Bag Pesto, 13p

Use-Me-For-Anything Tomato Sauce, 13p

Paul’s Savory Biscuits

Next up: Zero-Waste Banana Peel Ketchup, 43p

What are you experimenting with in the kitchen at the moment?

Everything You Never Knew About Balance

“I don’t think it’s a strength issue, it’s a balance issue,” my 60-year-old client Joe said as he wobbled on the screen in front of me. “My muscles are strong, but I just can’t balance.”

In every Pilates session I teach, I add in some balance exercises. Unfortunately, many of my clients don’t seem to understand the causes of their balancing issues. Like Joe, they separate muscular strength from balance. In reality, what makes us balance is the way our muscles work together.

low angle view of woman relaxing on beach against blue sky
Balance: Crucial at any age, but especially at 60+.

balance muscles

The main group of stabilising muscles used when balancing is the core. This doesn’t just mean your four stomach muscles, but also the pelvic floor, the spinal muscles in the back, and the glutes. They all work together to keep you stable and upright. When Joe works out, he often focuses on the superficial muscles in his arms and legs. But because his core is weak, he can’t balance, even though he appears strong at first glance.

In addition to the core, the leg muscles must be kept active. Your hamstrings, quads and adductors can all be trained with simple exercises such as squats, sumo squats and lunges. In addition, focusing on the lower leg ensures that your ankles remain strong, which will dramatically improve your balance.

Best exercises for balance

Depending on your strengths and weaknesses, your needs will vary. However, here are some exercises which can effectively strengthen your core and legs, thereby improving your balancing skills.

  1. Curl Up: simple, but effective. Start with 2-3 sets of 15 repetitions and increase to 3 sets of 20 repetitions.

2. Side Curl Up: Great for the obliques, which are important stabilising muscles. Same reps as for regular curl ups.

3. Glute Bridge: Strengthen the glutes and hamstrings and learn to articulate your spine with this exercise. Start with 10 repetitions and increase to 15.

4. Watchdog Kicks: A leg and core stability exercise. Start with 2-3 sets of 10-15 kicks each side.

5. Calf Raises: Crucial for lower-leg stability. Aim for 15 single leg raises on each side.

Are you good at balancing? Have you ever specifically trained for it and if so, what exercises did you do?

Lockdown 2.0: The Body and Brain Challenge

Here we are again: it’s lockdown time in England! Faced with at least a month of staying at home, how can we use this time productively so that we emerge better than we started? I’ve set myself a number of rules to keep me fit and healthy. Join me in my challenge, or write your own rules for a successful month.

The Body

Unlike the last time, it’s winter now and the temptation to cuddle up on the sofa and drink some hot chocolate is greater than ever. But we must not give in: staying active every day is the key to a healthy lockdown. Here are my health and fitness rules for November:

  1. Spend time outside every day: Ideally, that’s a walk or a bike ride, but on particularly miserable days, a few laps around my terrace will do.
  2. One day in the green: Every week, spend one day outside in a large green space, such as a big park.
  3. Two bike rides: Two bike rides a week are mandatory, 40 minutes minimum each.
  4. All the veggies: Try out different fruit and veggies to expand my repertoire. Eat at least 5 a day.
mountainous valley with evergreen forest against misty sky
Spending time outside: one of the best ways of staying sane.

The Brain

Aside from physical fitness, let’s improve our minds. In addition to my regular self-improvement tasks, I’ve decided to keep going after the completion of my creative writing course and enrol in another one. It’s quite amazing what you can learn for free on the internet, if you just know where to look! Here are my goals:

  1. Write for 10-15 minutes every day.
  2. Finish my current course (Literature of the English Country House).
  3. Keep up with my daily Spanish practice on Duolingo.
  4. Learn at least two new dishes to cook.
turned on floor lamp near sofa
So much to learn! How can anyone get bored?

What are your health and fitness goals in November? And what are you going to learn this lockdown?

More Self-Improvement Inspiration

Not sure where to start? Haven’t found a favourite workout yet? Have a look in my archives to find both fitness and side hustle inspiration.

Publishing Blank Notebooks as a Side Hustle

Starting Your Own Blog

A 20-Minute Fitness Routine

A 10-Minute Stretching Session

The Body Project: A Comprehensive Look at All Your Muscles and How to Use Them